Twitter user fined for tweeting joke airport bomb threat
A trainee accountant who made a joke bomb threat on Twitter after his local airport was closed by heavy snow was found guilty yesterday of sending a menacing electronic message.
Paul Chambers, who used the social networking website to express frustration at the potential disruption of romantic travel plans, becomes the first person in Britain convicted of posting an offensive tweet.
Chambers, 26, of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, told his 600 Twitter followers: “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”
District Judge Jonathan Bennett at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court fined him £385 and told him the message “was of a menacing nature in the context of the times in which we live”.
Chambers, who lost his job as a company finance supervisor after his arrest and prosecution, said that it never crossed his mind that anyone would take the message seriously.
The court heard that he booked a flight from the airport to Northern Ireland in January, to meet a woman he had met via Twitter — where her alias was Crazy Colours. Nine days before he was due to fly, he learnt that various airports including Robin Hood had been closed by snow.
Chambers said the message, sent in the early hours, was his way of venting frustration at the possible postponement of a trip to which he had been looking forward. Its wording, he said, was “innocuous hyperbole”.
An off-duty airport manager spotted the message and alerted security staff, who contacted police. Chambers was arrested under the Terrorism Act, and questioned by detectives for almost seven hours. His mobile phone, laptop and home computers were confiscated. The court was told that police printed 460 tweets posted by Chambers over eight days in January.
They included a number of foul-mouthed tirades that prompted stifled laughter in court, and a message — sent a few hours before the bomb text — informing Crazy Colours that he had decided to “resort to terrorism” if the airport stayed closed.
Richard Haigh, defending, said that the tweet should be viewed in the context of the language used on Twitter. Referring to John Cleese’s ranting hotelier in Fawlty Towers, the BBC television series, he said it had been a Fawlty-esque outburst. The message might be considered immature, tasteless or unacceptable, but it was not criminal.
Chambers said he now understood that airports had to take all threats seriously, and apologised “for whatever consequences have happened”.
“That was not my intention at all. It did not cross my mind that Robin Hood would ever look at Twitter or take it seriously.”
He was found guilty of sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing nature, contrary to the Communications Act 2003.
In addition to the fine, Chambers must pay a £15 victims’ surcharge and £600 in costs.